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In recent weeks, the Colombian authorities have been using legal proceedings to shut up journalists and news media - or their sources - who have been speaking out against them, says a new report by the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP). It's just one of a handful of reports that spotlight recent press freedom violations in Colombia.

In the past month, journalists have been summoned to court to testify on events they have covered - like the "parapolitics" scandal, which has come about following allegations that politicians close to Uribe have close links with the paramilitaries, FLIP says.

"This practice not only inhibits the journalists' coverage of news, but also violates their right to protect their sources," says FLIP. In some cases, journalists have been accused as having ties to illegal armed groups - a worrying thought if they simply used these groups as sources of information, says FLIP. Read examples of specific cases here:

If journalists are not appearing as witnesses, they are coming in as defendants: there's been a recent spike of criminal charges being filed against journalists for insult. Last week, Member of Congress Roy Barreras presented a bill that would eliminate jail terms in cases of slander and libel. But is there a case for using criminal sanctions to monitor freedom of information abuses and to protect the reputation and privacy of citizens? FLIP and the Public Interest Law Group of the University of the Andes (G-DIP) put on an event to discuss the pros and cons. Read the arguments that came out of the debate in "Slander and Libel in Colombia: Democracy, Freedom of Information and Criminal Law", here: (in Spanish only).

The attacks on journalists in recent months extend to an even more marginalised group - reporters in Colombia's indigenous communities - often at the hands of illegal armed groups and the government, says the Association of Indigenous Media in Colombia (AMCIC). What's worse, these attacks are often overlooked as they don't affect the mainstream press. Read more about them here: (in Spanish only).

Finally, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and the Association of Colombian Newspapers (ANDIARIOS) commissioned a study into the irregularities in the case of journalist Oscar Sierra, who was killed in 2002. "Injustice Rewarded" points out that Sierra's assassin was sentenced to 19 years in jail and freed after serving only five.

"What was he doing just 67 months later, back on the streets, once again committing crimes and killing?" IAPA asked a group of judiciary and legislators at a discussion last month. "It is a disturbing fact... that forces us to ask ourselves how this can happen and what effects the current system of legal rewards and sentence reductions are having."

Some of Colombia's judiciary and legislators have agreed to work towards reforms to combat impunity after reviewing the study. Read what IAPA recommended to them here:

(10 September 2008)

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